AgTech company looks to Eastern Kentucky for greenhouse project

Published: Mar. 17, 2019 at 3:21 PM EDT
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A Kentucky-based company called AppHarvest is changing the way we grow food here in America.

"We've got to find a way to make fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible," said Jonathan Webb, the company's president and CEO.

AppHarvest is taking a successful agriculture model in the Netherlands and seeing what that could mean for Appalachian communities in Eastern Kentucky.

"We could fit the entire country of the Netherlands inside of Eastern Kentucky in landmass. The Netherlands has the second most agricultural exports in the world, only behind the U.S.," said Webb.

He explained that greenhouses are spurring the European country's agricultural success.

"They're growing indoors, using artificial lighting to maximize yields, while also putting the water directly to the roots of the plants," said Webb. "We need 80 to 90 percent less water than open-field agriculture. We're able to grow year round because of the controlled environment."

App Harvest is building a similar greenhouse in Morehead, an area suffering from the decline of coal.

"It's the people of Eastern Kentucky that have powered our country through coal over the last few decades. It's that work ethic, that tenacity, that grit that we're trying to harness for this industry," said Webb.

AOL co-founder Steve Case and best-selling author J.D. Vance have invested in the project, which will be featured in a 60 minutes episode.

Creating 280 jobs, the greenhouse in Morehead will produce tomatoes, one of the largest U.S. imports from Mexico.

"We're positioning the eastern part of our state to be the AgTech of America," said Webb.

He explained the company is working with local high schools and universities to create educational opportunities that focus on careers in agriculture.

The 60 Minutes episode featuring AppHarvest airs Sunday night at 7 p.m. on WKYT.